Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin, TX

My name is Lily Stadler and I am a Political Science Major in the class of 2021. This summer I worked at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin, Texas. TRLA is a non-profit that provides free legal assistance to low-income Texas residents. My job is to do legal intakes. I answer the phone when clients call and then I check their eligibility for TRLA services which is mainly based on their citizenship status and the income of their household. If the client is eligible, I get all the details of their legal issue and send their case to an attorney who reviews it and decides if they will accept the case or provide legal advice. If the attorney has questions, I call the client back and serve as the liaison between the client and the attorney until their case is closed.

To be honest, when I first got the job I was a disappointed because I had hoped to work in immigration law and I my first week there I was mainly doing eviction and divorce cases. After a while I started to realize how important these seemingly mundane issue are. Losing an eviction case can often be the last step before homelessness. And getting a divorce and a protective order are vital steps for individuals to restart their lives, especially for those who have experienced domestic violence within their relationships.

Ater about one week of working, the Spanish line got turned on for my phone and I started getting a lot more immigration cases. My clients’ cases brought the Trump presidency into the real world. As a white, U.S. citizen, Trump’s presidency often feels like a horrible racist situation that is extremely far away from me. But through the cases I have done this summer, I have been able to see the real-world effects of Trump’s policies on real people.

Trump’s “Return to Mexico” policy means that clients who previously would have been eligible for TRLA services in the past, are now in Mexico, outside of our service area, meaning their eligibility is now uncertain. Many of my clients have been victims of trafficking, meaning they were forced to work somewhere against their will, with little to no pay, and are often sexually harassed or assaulted by their employers. These clients previously would be able to get a T-visas but now aren’t because under the Trump administration, the laws are interpreted to mean that if the trafficking took place a long time ago, the clients is no longer eligible for a visa. Additionally, I see attorneys having to reach out to their contacts to find out how ICE is working in different areas. In many areas, if a client loses a case for asylum or a visa, ICE will then put them in deportation proceedings. This raises the stakes exponentially for whether a client decides to risk attempting to adjust their immigration status, because the cost of losing the case could be that they are deported back to a place where their safety is threatened.

This work has solidified my decision to pursue a career as an immigration attorney in order to fight these unjust policies and represent clients who deserve to live without fear in the United States.

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